The second I got to Cape Town, I was obsessed. As I strolled around the city, breezing into wine bars and boutiques, my singular thought was I NEED TO MOVE HERE IMMEDIATELY.
There’s so much to love about Cape Town. First off, it’s one of the most naturally beautiful cities in the world. Geographically, Cape Town looks like a mix of Colorado’s mountains and LA’s beaches, with a backdrop of the dark and often stormy Atlantic Ocean.
Not to mention, it’s inexpensive. A glass of (delicious) wine costs $3, and a meal at one of Cape Town’s swankiest restaurants will only set you back about $40.
It’s also super modern: the tap water is potable, the roads are paved, and you can pay with a credit card almost everywhere. (As you can see, my standards are kind of low due to living in Uganda, ha.)
Anyway, here are the reasons I fell head over heels in love with The Mother City, and why I’m sure you will too.
Cape Town is a city that is not short on color. I particularly loved Bo Kaap, a traditionally Malay neighborhood where the houses are painted bright pastels. It looked just like Nicaragua!
The small size
Cape Town is a fairly small, walkable city – it’s not a metropolis like sprawling Johannesburg.
Another bonus – it’s very hard to get lost in Cape Town – flat-topped Table Mountain overshadows the entire city, so you can use it as a north star while walking around.
The natural beauty
You know when people ask if you prefer the mountains or the ocean? The inhabitants of Cape Town get both.
When I was hiking around the city, I was astounded by the views – massive mountain range to my left, bright blue ocean to my right.
Being able to hike in the middle of the city
Cape Town is an hiker’s paradise. Two of the most popular hikes are Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. Table Mountain is challenging, steep, and takes about two hours to summit.
If you’re more of a laid-back hiker, like yours truly, Lion’s Head is a great choice. It’s a super fun and moderately challenging hike that involves ladders, chains, and free-climbing. Honestly it was one of my favorite hikes I’ve ever done.
The affordable, delicious wine
Wine in South Africa is high-quality and super affordable. If you are a wine lover, you will be in heaven.
During our two weeks, we drank lots of pinotage, South Africa’s signature grape; you’ll see it on every wine menu. It was created in South Africa in 1925 and is a blend between Cinsault and difficult-to-grow Pinot Noir.
Cape Town is one of the most racially diverse cities I’ve ever visited. You’ll see people of all colors in Cape Town, and hear English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa. Fun fact – Xhosa is the African language that uses the ‘click’ sound as a consonant.
And I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the bizarro South African accent – to me, it sounds like a mix of kiwi, Indian, and British.
The incredible restaurants
Cape Town has so. many. good. restaurants. My favorite was The Potluck Club, a penthouse-level restaurant with stunning views of Table Mountain and the best cocktail menu I’ve ever had. (My friend and I had five cocktails each at dinner – honestly they were that good.)
Note that it’s very hard to book a reservation there – we made ours several months in advance.
I also loved Kloor Street House, a quirkily decorated restaurant inside an old Victorian mansion. If you go in winter, request to be near one of its many fireplaces.
If you want something more casual, head to Bree Street. There you will find a collection of affordable restaurants: local seafood at Seabreeze Fish & Shell, excellent brunch and cheese boards at Culture Club Cheese, and epic sandwiches and charcuterie boards at Bacon on Bree.
Super cheap Nando’s
On a budget? Never fear – Nando’s is everywhere in Cape Town (uh, duh) and it’s super cheap. You can get a quarter chicken and a side for less than $5.
I’m not ashamed to say that I had Nando’s for lunch almost every day.
Cape Town isn’t one of the cheapest cities in the world, but it does provide some of the best value.
For example, you can buy an amazing bottle of wine at a restaurant for $15 or less, or stay in a cute one-bedroom Airbnb for around $50.
Basically being in Cape Town feels like being in Europe or North America, but at half the price.
The proximity to the Cape Winelands, the most beautiful wine country I’ve ever seen!
Stellenbosch, South Africa’s most famous wine region, is only about 40 minutes from Cape Town.
Stellenbosch itself is a cute college town that is famed for its Cape Dutch architecture. You can identify Cape Dutch architecture by looking for the rounded gables at the top of the building; it looks very similar to what you might find in Amsterdam or Brussels.
I found Stellenbosch more physically beautiful than Mendoza or even Napa – in addition to having sprawling vineyards, it also has beautiful mountains.
Sadly, we only had time to visit two wineries in Stellenbosch. I highly recommend doing a full day trip to Stellenbosch – I’ve heard great things about the Vine Hopper tour.
The countless day trips
Not a wine drinker? (Uh, who are you?) Never fear – there are so many other day trips you can do from Cape Town.
You can take the boat to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 17 years, or go see the adorable (but smelly) penguins at Boulders Beach…
or head down to the Cape of Good Hope, where many Portuguese and Dutch ships met their doom.
We arranged a day trip with our hostel and had an excellent time – for $100 each, our private driver took us to Boulders Beach, the Cape of Good Hope, and Stellenbosch.
Honestly, two weeks in South Africa was not long enough to get a grasp on South African history. Not by a long shot.
But here’s what I did learn about Cape Town. Cape Town’s long, complex history is reflective of South Africa as a whole. It was discovered by the Portuguese in 1497, settled by the Dutch in 1652, and taken over by the British in 1814.
The Dutch East India Company used Cape Town as a supply station for Dutch ships sailing to East Africa, India, and beyond. They also imported thousands of slaves from Indonesia and Madagascar.
Overall I would HIGHLY recommend visiting Cape Town. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to stay a lot longer than a week.
Have you been to Cape Town? Is it on your bucket list?
Cape Town travel tips:
When to go: Cape Town is in the southern hemisphere, so summer lasts from December – March and winter lasts from June – August. We visited in August and frankly hated the weather – it was damp and chilly with overcast skies. I would recommend visiting in any season but winter.
Where to stay in Cape Town: We stayed at The Backpack Hostel but I didn’t enjoy it – it was overpriced, and our room was drafty and cold. I would advise staying in an Airbnb in Cape Town as they are nicer and better value. Get a $40 Airbnb coupon code for your next stay here.
Travel gear – Before your trip, buy a South Africa travel adapter plug as they’re hard to find and unique to South Africa.
Transportation – Hiring a driver in Cape Town is expensive – it costs around $140 USD a day. Instead, we walked and took Ubers everywhere. If you’re new to Uber, get $20 off your first ride here.
Safety – Cape Town overall felt safe to me. However you should avoid walking alone, especially at night. Petty theft is fairly common so ladies, bring a crossbody bag. Some neighborhoods like Bo Kaap or the Central Business District are sketchy at night, so check with your hostel or hotel which areas are safe to explore independently.
Health – You don’t need a yellow fever vaccine to travel to South Africa. But if you’re traveled from a yellow fever risk country, you will need a yellow fever certificate. See more information on which vaccines you will need here.
Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to South Africa. I’ve used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.